Tuesday, April 24, 2007

It May Be 80 Degrees, But It Isn't Summer Yet

I'm not minding the unusual warmth because the octagon is happy. Momotaro says hello.

So does Matt's Wild Cherry.

My Spanish lavender smiles.

And on my walk home today, I saw the first of the passion vines, growing feral along an untidy fence, blooming passionately away.

But, it isn't too summer-y yet for a good dose of homemade macaroni and cheese. I've been making this recipe for the last couple of years, and it is so good, that I had to share it with you, even if it is "no longer in season." Hey, out on the other coast of this fair continent, I hear it is still raining. Perhaps it isn't too late.

The World's Best Mac and Cheese
Slightly adapted from Epicurious

You will need:
1 package of elbow shaped pasta or another shape of your choosing (I like trottole)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 3/4 cups milk
3/4 cup cream
5 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar (about 1 pound, 4 ounces)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives (Mine were from the octagon--my first crop! Hooray!)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To make the macaroni and cheese:
Start a large pot of salted water to boil and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large (3 quart) baking dish with butter. When the water boils, add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, complete the following steps.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and mix it with the bread crumbs and 1 cup of cheddar cheese. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and red pepper flakes to make a roux. Cook, whisking, for three minutes, then stir in the milk. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring frequently to keep it from scorching on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the cream, mustard, chives, cheddar, salt and pepper.

When the pasta has reached "al dente" stage, pour the pasta into a colander, retaining a cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to its large pot, along with the cup of pasta water and the cheese sauce. Stir to combine, then pour the pasta-cheese mixture into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the casserole, and stick the whole thing in the oven for 25 minutes.

Serves six (or two, with two days of yummy leftovers).

P.S. A couple of posts ago, I asked for "fennel pollen" ideas. I tried Susan in Italy's first--an arugula, sliced fennel, parmesan, and blood orange salad, tossed with fabulous olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt and fennel pollen. The salad came together as sweet, crunchy, and fragrant--overall, very nice, and a perfect accompaniment to the rich mac and cheese. I haven't tried Susan from The Well Seasoned Cook's gratin idea yet, but it is definitely in the foreseeable future. If any of y'all have more suggestions, I'll gladly take them.


Susan said...

Well, Christina, it IS raining again here on the east coast. We had a few days of 80 earlier in week, but the water's back and it's 45 now. All our flowering trees are in full force, but it's strange to see them flourishing in beach heat. Gorgeous photos; I love them all. Keep them coming.

Andrew said...

I am jealous. I tried planting tomatoes last week, and frost killed them.

Christina said...

Susan: I'll try to keep up on the pictures. Keeping this blog has taught me a lot about photography, especially how much I still have to learn!

Ahdrew: Darn it! I'm sorry that the evil frost fairy came and took your tomatoes. But, it seems that you have more precious things to worry about now. I can't believe I just used the word precious. I'm not sure I've ever used the word precious. And now I've used it three times. Argh.

Loretta said...

Thanks for stopping by- your tomato blossoms look lovely!

Christa said...

There's never a "wrong" time for mac and cheese! Your tomato plants look great. I just set my seedlings out a few days ago.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Susan in Italy said...

Hey, your garden looks great (and farther along than my own!). I love the idea of making macaroni and cheese from scratch but haven't gotten around to it yet. Thanks for the inspiration! (And glad you liked the salad!)

Christina said...

Loretta: I'm quite happy with them. The larger tomatoes have yet to set, but the cherry tomatoes have begun setting fruit. I'm so excited!

Christa: Tell me about it. Even though my boyfriend and I had three nights of leftovers with that huge pan of macaroni and cheese, every night we said we could have it each week and still be happy. I'm looking forward to sharing garden stories with you. Have you got advice for growing melons?

Susan in Italy: You're welcome. I like this recipe in particular because of the addition of the hot red pepper. The pepper really highlights the sharp edge of the cheese. I hope you enjoy it. And, thanks again for the salad idea.

womantalk said...

Hello Christina,

I am thoroughly enjoying your blog - lovely pics and great lyrical writing style.

I stopped by to let you know that I had some of your mac and cheese that Corrina (at corrinacorrina.wordpress.com) made, and it was delicious!

I like too, that you post a directory of all your recipes. Great idea.

Hope you're having a great start to the school year.